IT / Technology
How Much Time Should Leaders Devote to Understanding Technology?
Several recent surveys in both the US and in Europe have suggested that the vast majority of CEOs and senior leaders in organizations of all sizes and types are failing to guide their companies towards the effective use of new technologies of many kinds. Although the reasons for this varies greatly, the result is that it prevents these organizations from making significant business improvements (which can sometimes create a real competitive edge) or enjoying as much growth and/or success as they might.
Of course the word “technology” is a very broad term but encompasses the use of electronic or digital equipment and devices of all kinds in particular (including new large-scale digital machines, robotic equipment, tablet computers, smart phones and other hand-held devices), Internet driven sales platforms, Cloud-based file storage, access to and use of various social media sites, and deep “big-data” analytics, to name but a few. Many CEOs and senior executives know broadly what these technologies are but are not actively talking about them inside their organizations, preferring to put other issues and challenges higher on their priority list.
The key to success in adopting new technology is for senior executives to spend much more time in their day, week and month looking at new technology and its potential to contribute. This may start with a serious evaluation of competitor use of different technologies, but is better stretched beyond direct competition into other industries and sectors, if possible. These senior executives can then start to shape an adoption strategy based on a clear vision, specific goals and concrete metrics and the investment that needs to be made and the returns that can be expected from doing so.
A good place for any executive team to start to look at the potential for technology to make a contribution is to identify the strongest assets of the enterprise and then evaluate (through extensive discussion both internally and externally with suppliers) how these key assets can be further enhanced and strengthened through new technology.
So what are the barriers to overcome in taking the approach described above? Well most senior executives are well out of their comfort zone when talking about technology and fear that it may undermine their standing or authority in the eyes of their peers. Another barrier is that they may have to learn some new skills to appreciate how the technology works before they can realistically assess its possible contribution. For many executives this is like going back to school after what may have been decades away, and this is not an attractive prospect.
The best way to overcome the above barriers is for the CEO or divisional head of an organization to take the lead and act as a role model to the whole senior team. Although this may be uncomfortable at first, it will start to catalyze discussion about technology more often at executive meetings and ensure that technology debates are held much more often at lower levels of the organization (the results of which can “percolate up” for investment as knowledge progressively grows).